Billy and the Giant Adventure

Billy and the Giant Adventure

Billy and the Giant Adventure











Billy and the Giant Adventure

Jamie Oliver

Puffin, 2023

352pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Billy and his friends know that Waterfall Woods is out of bounds; strange things are rumoured to have happened there and no one in their village has ventured past its walls for decades…

But when they discover a secret way in, Billy and his best friends, Anna, Jimmy and Andy, can’t resist the temptation to explore! Only to quickly discover that the woods are brimming with magic and inhabited by all sorts of unusual creatures, including a whole community of sprites who need the children’s help! But the woods themselves are in trouble.  Everything is connected by the Rhythm, the beat that keeps nature in harmony and now it’s going wrong.  But are Billy and his mates the ones to help?

Apart from having a celebrity’s name on the cover, even though this is first book for young readers, what makes this stand out from the myriad of others with a similar theme that have been released over the last few years, is that Oliver has drawn on his own experience of being dyslexic and thus accessibility has been a critical focus for both the print and audio editions have key design elements for ease of access.  The print edition is in a sans serif font while the audio version has state-of-the-art sound effects, multiple voices including narration by the author so that the characters and situations are brought to life in “a fully immersive experience”.

It’s tough developing a love for reading when your brain can’t process written words efficiently, and particularly when there is such an emphasis on phonological strategies in early reading instruction, so to consciously support those with this issue so they can enjoy the sorts of stories their peers are reading is not just a breakthrough but the acknowledgement of the condition itself will give those with it a boost.  Reading is something they can enjoy. 

The Spectaculars

The Spectaculars

The Spectaculars











The Spectaculars

Jodie Garnish

Usborne, 2023

368pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


As a child, Harper lives a dull life in a city that doesn’t celebrate creativity, so when three figures arrive at her window in a flying canoe, informing her that she is due to start her apprenticeship, Harper discovers she is a Spectacular – a magical performer, gifted special powers from the stars. Harper is thrilled to be part of the Spectaculars’ travelling theatre and boarding school, until everything is plunged into great danger. With her new friends Trick and Thief, Harper sets out to save her school… But while dreams come true at the Wondria, nightmares might just be lurking in the wings…

Touted as “The Greatest Showman meets Nevermoor”, this is the first in a new series for older, independent readers who can cope with a longer book with characters and events that take them beyond their immediate world.  Fantasy and magic are very popular right now and I know this is one that Miss 11, who has aspirations of being a performer one day, will really enjoy.


The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents











The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

Terry Pratchett

Corgi Children’s, 2022

304pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Rats! They’re everywhere –  in the breadbins, dancing across tabletops, stealing pies from under the cooks’ noses. So, what does every town need? A good piper to lure them away. That’s where Maurice comes in! A streetwise tomcat with the perfect money-making scam.

Everyone has heard the stories about the piper and the rats, and con-cat Maurice finds a stupid-looking kid with a pipe, and has his very own plague of rats – strangely educated rats who are highly intelligent, can speak and have a sense of morality. 

But in Bad Blintz, someone is playing a different tune and now Maurice and his rats must learn a new concept: evil….

While this edition is a tie-in to the movie that is about to be released, the original was the 28th novel in the bestselling Discworld series, a series set on a flat, circular world balanced on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle. Typically, the stories are inspired by classic literature, in this case Robert Browning’s, The Pied Piper of Hamelin.  While the series itself is primarily aimed at adults, this one is for children and Pratchett was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal for it. There are twists and turns that older readers are more likely to appreciate so this might be one best shared in conjunction with both Browning’s story and the movie.

The Book of Wondrous Possibilities

The Book of Wondrous Possibilities

The Book of Wondrous Possibilities











The Book of Wondrous Possibilities

Deborah Abela

Puffin, 2022

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Since his mother died in a hit-and-run accident, Arlo Goodman lives a quiet, solitary life with his Uncle Avery in a run-down flat above their bookshop. Solitary from choice, and home-schooled, he has no friends, except for his pet mouse, Herbert. However when a girl called Lisette bursts into the shop and begs him to hide her from a murderer, closely followed by the most terrifying man Arlo has ever encountered, his life changes forever.

For she has a parcel for him from his mother!  She has sent him a grimoire – a book of magic spells and invocations, or one itself that is magic – and to his surprise, when he tentatively opens it,  there is a story called The Courageous Journey of Arlo Goodman written by his mother!

And so begins the most amazing adventure in which Arlo discovers just how brave he really is as he tries to protect this rare book from falling into the hands of  the wealthy but sinister business tycoon, Marcellus, who has set his brutal, scary Silas to get it no matter the cost. 

It seems appropriate to start a new year with a book called The Book of Wondrous Possibilities, particularly one in which the main characters face demons, both external and internal, and discover their inner strengths and courage that enable them to not only survive but flourish. Abela has created characters that are relatable but added that touch of magic that takes the story above being an unlikely narrative of two kids facing danger that ordinary children wouldn’t, into the realm of “If Arlo could…” or “If Lisette can…” As many of our students face new challenges in this new year, this is one to offer them to give them that boost that they might need.

It was the perfect title to pop into the book pouch I made Miss 11 for Christmas as she starts Year 7 in a high school where she knows no one… I know she is looking forward to it as a year of wondrous possibilities. 


The Christmas Pig





The Christmas Pig

The Christmas Pig











The Christmas Pig

J. K. Rowling

Jim Field

Little, Brown 2021

312pp., hbk., RRP $A39.99


Jack loves his childhood toy, Dur Pig. DP has always been there for him, through good and bad – starting school, the break-up of his parents’ marriage, moving house, starting a new school, his mother’s remarriage, a new step-sister who is mean… Whenever there is change to be faced, DP is there for him and it doesn’t matter that he’s getting a bit grey and worn and has had surgery on his eyes because he has his own special smell and always knows exactly what is troubling Jack without even having to be told.

Until one Christmas Eve, something terrible happens – DP is lost. Fed up with step-sister Holly’s nastiness (but too young to understand she is fighting her own demons too), he responds by calling her a loser.  To a gymnastics champ who has just lost an important competition, that is a red rag to a bull and Holly throws his precious DP out the car window onto the motorway. Jack is devastated – even though Grandpa searches, DP is not found and all Jack can imagine is DP lost and alone in the dark, cold and wet.  He trashes his room in anger, and doesn’t want anything to do with the replacement Christmas Pig that Holly buys, throwing it into the corner. 

But Christmas Eve is a night for miracles and lost causes, a night when all things can come to life… even toys. And when strange voices waken Jack he discovers that despite his treatment of it, the Christmas Pig has a daring plan: together they’ll embark on a magical journey to seek something lost, and to save the best friend Jack has ever known…

J. K. Rowling’s name will forever be associated with the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter, and this story has all the charm and originality of those but for a younger audience.  It is a much simpler narrative style and many young readers will relate to the upheavals in Jack’s short life and his attachment to DP, the one constant in a turmoil of change.  I could hear myself reading it as either a bedtime story or as a class read-aloud, and that, to me, is the hallmark of something quite special.  Of the thousands of books I’ve read to children over the 50+ years I’ve been doing that, only a handful reach those heights.  So, definitely one to put in your teacher toolbox or on the parent’s shelf to become part of your Christmas Countdown. 

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure











The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

Jacqueline Wilson

Mark Beech

Hodder Children’s, 2022

285pp., hbk., RRP $A35.00


2856pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Seventy-plus years ago, the stories of Enid Blyton were the core of the young child’s reading diet.  A trip in the magic wishing chair or a visit to a land through the mysterious cloud above a huge tree were a much-anticipated part of the bedtime routine introducing us to the fantasy genre and leading us on to read series like The Famous Five and The Secret Seven  or any other of her 700 books and 2000 short stories for ourselves. 

Such were the memories made that that generation went on to share her work with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and some, like me, went on to become teachers and shared them with a new class of fans every year for 50 years!!! So to discover that Jacqueline Wilson had been given permission to weave new adventures among the branches of the Faraway Tree so new, modern readers can share the magic and mystery made this high on my list of review requests.  And I’ve had my nose in it all afternoon not only meeting the new and familiar characters like Silky, Moonface, the Saucepan Man and Dame Washalot among others but recalling my own introduction to them all those years ago and the joy and wonder I’ve brought to children over the years when I have shared them.  

In this new adventure, Milo, Mia and Birdy are on a countryside holiday when they wander into an Enchanted Wood and following a rabbit who can speak to them through the thick forest with its mysterious whispering leaves, discover a beautiful tree that stands high above the rest. The Magic Faraway Tree is home to many remarkable creatures including a fairy called Silky, her best friend Moonface and more. Little Birdy is only too happy to find that fairies are real. Even her older brother and sister are soon won over by the magic of the Faraway Tree and the extraordinary places they discover above it.

Keeping true to the original concept, including the writing style, this is both a nostalgic visit to past pleasures as well as the gateway to reading the entire series which remains in print.  IMO, this is one of the best series to introduce young readers to reading novels because each chapter is pretty much complete in itself making it ideal for a both a read-aloud session and a read-alone session, yet there is the continuity of both the storyline and the characters to be able to pick it up and set it down without having to orient yourself to a whole new read.  While there is drama in each chapter . the plot remains straightforward so there are not too many twists and turns to confuse the novice reader. 

My well-thumbed, well-read 1971 editions of the series have pride of place on my bookshelf, and this new adventure will be sitting there with them too, ready for when my grandchildren are ready to read it to theirs.  Hachette, the publishers, kindly sent me a hardcover version but it is also available in paperback at a more accessible price so more generations can lose themselves in the magic.  

The Trouble with the Two-Headed Hydra

The Trouble with the Two-Headed Hydra

The Trouble with the Two-Headed Hydra











Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters (series)

The Trouble with the Two-Headed Hydra

Karen Foxlee

Freda Chu

Allen & Unwin, 2022

304pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Although a rather anxious child who prefers  to make lists so she can plan and manage her life because she doesn’t cope with change well, nevertheless Mary-Kate Martin has left the sanctuary of her grandmother’s home to travel the world with her mother whose life is spent on mystery-solving adventures such as why the Woolington Wyrm was causing such destruction in a quiet English village. 

This time, Mary-Kate and her mother are visiting Galinios, an idyllic Greek Island filled with history and surrounded by the shimmering Aegean Sea. An ancient mosaic has been unearthed at the local sardine processing plant and Professor Martin must investigate, leaving Mary-Kate to enjoy a few days of sunshine and antiquity.

But a message asking for help changes everything. A wrecked boat and smashed jetty have recently disrupted life on this tranquil island and point to a monster-sized mystery. Could the local legend of the Two-Headed Hydra be more than a story? If so, what could make this historically serene sea creature so angry?  Armed with her glitter pens and strawberry-scented notebook, Miss Mary-Kate Martin is determined to find answers. She might be scared of heights, but there is no problem too big for her to solve.

This is the second in this series for independent readers who like mystery, adventure and a touch of fantasy, and given that it is based on the creature of Greek mythology perhaps it will inspire deeper investigation, maybe even an entry into the class Monsters book inspired by yesterday’s review.  

Pages & Co.5-The Treehouse Library

Pages & Co. 5-The Treehouse Library

Pages & Co. 5-The Treehouse Library












Pages & Co. 5-The Treehouse Library

Anna James

HarperCollins, 2022

416pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


“From outside on the busy north London high street, Pages & Co looked like an entirely normal bookshop. but once inside it didn’t quite make sense how everything fitted inside its ordinary walls. The shop was made up of five floors of corners and cubbyholes, sofas and squashy armchairs, and a labyrinth of bookshelves heading off in different direction.  A spiral staircase danced up one wall, and painted wooden ladders stretched into difficult-to-reach corners.  Tall arched windows above made it feel a little like a church when the light spilled in and danced on the air. When it was good weather the sun pooled on the floor and the bookshop cat – named Alice for her curious nature- could often be found dozing in the warmest spots.  During the summer the big fireplace behind the till was filled to bursting with fresh flowers, but at it was October, a fire was roaring there…”

Does this not conjure up every booklover’s dream of a magical place, a bookstore where magic and mysteries, adventures and escapades beckon?  And for it to be the home of Tilly who prefers the company of book characters to the people in real life and, although not having been outside London, is a seasoned traveller within the pages of the books that abound on the shelves  for in the first in the series she discovered her father was a fictional character and she, herself, was half fictional.  There is much more to her grandfather and grandmother and the family’s history and lives than she ever imagined. Bookwandering is what this family does, and it might explain the mysterious disappearance of her mother and the absence of her father. As she and her best friend Oskar search for her missing mother, they meet the powerful but sinister Underwood family, search for the mysterious  Archivists and encounter the Sesquipedalian, a magical train that uses the power of imagination to travel through both Story and the real world. It is owned by Horatio Bolt who specialises dodgy dealings as a book smuggler trading in rare books, and his nephew Milo…

In this, the second last in this series, Tilly and Milo hurtle towards their final showdown with the Alchemist, and the stakes are higher than ever – though there is always time for hot chocolate!
Milo Bolt is ready to be the hero of his own story. With Uncle Horatio trapped in an enchanted sleep by the power-hungry Alchemist, he sets off with his new friend Alessia to find a cure and save them all.  Their journey leads them to the magical treehouse – home of the Botanist, the Alchemist’s sworn enemy. Against the clock, they hunt for the cure: foraging in the Secret Garden, challenging Robin Hood and confronting the mighty Jabberwock.

But the Alchemist will stop at nothing to unlock the powerful secrets of The Book of Books, and Tilly, Pages & Co. and the whole world of imagination are under threat as a battle for the fate of bookwandering is set in motion…

Created for independent readers or perfect for classroom read-alouds, this is a series that really needs to be read from the first one in order so that the subsequent adventures have context but it will have the book lover hooked from the start, regardless of their age, and wishing they too could bookwander into the magical, mystical world of their favourite characters. Miss Now 12 is going to be delighted when her copy arrives in the post as she has been hooked on this from the start.

And if you have readers looking for similar stories about magical bookshops, suggest The Bookseller’s Apprentice and The Grandest Bookshop in the World.  to tide them over while they are waiting for the final of Pages & Co., probably about this time next year.  In the meantime, those who haven’t ventured into the doors of this magical place have time to catch up! 


Roxy & Jones (series)

Roxy & Jones (series)

Roxy & Jones (series)











Roxy & Jones (series)

The Great Fairytale Cover-Up


The Curse of the Gingerbread Witch


Angela Woolfe

Walker Books, 2020-2022

240+pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

Once Upon a Modern Time, in the city of Rexopolis, in the Kingdom of Illustria, lived twelve-year-old Roxy Humperdinck, struggling to exist on the meagre wages of a toilet cleaner for the Ministry of Soup, and sharing a room with her half-sister Gretel, who is actually she of  Hansel and Grete fame. although Roxy is unaware of that.  When she accidentally discovers a secret vault in which a girl called Jones was hiding, dressed in a daffodil outfit, and who has a habit of leaving mysteriously leaving only a shoe behind, the pair become friends and through a mysterious book, discover the secrets of an enchantment  put on people who know that Illustria once had a frightening past and was known as the cursed Kingdom of Diabolica so that the real events have been wiped from memories.

Roxy discovers the truth about her  brother and sister raising suspicions  that all might not be as it seems and when her new friend  reveals  that her real name was actually Cinderella Jones, the mystery deepens. As they embark on a quest for the Seventh Stone, Roxy is about to discover the truth about her world and her family: that witches are real, magic is real and fairy tales are not only real … despite what the ruling Ministry of Soup wants them to believe.

In the second in the series, Roxy  is still reeling from the Great Fairy Tale Cover-up when Cinderella Jones returns with a new mission: to investigate The Missing – the children who followed the Pied Piper into the mountain thirty years ago, never to be seen again. And so begins another crazy adventure that takes the girls up Jack’s beanstalk, through Red Riding Hood’s Woods … and to the cottage of the most evil villain of all time, the Gingerbread Witch.

This is a series that straddles the known of the fairytale world with the blurry borders of fantasy for those who want to delve into that magical world but still need to have a foot in the world of reality and what they know. While there are any number of fractured fairytales in picture book format, this is one  for those who are independent readers and who have the skills to follow a reasonable complex plot made easier if they know their traditional fairy tales because the references will make more sense.  

Best read in order for continuity, this is a series that sets itself up for more episodes that will be one of those that readers return to regardless of their age just because they have engaged with both characters and plot and want to know what happens. 

Lightfall (series)

Lightfall (series)

Lightfall (series)











Lightfall (series)

The Girl & the Galdurian


Shadow of the Bird


Tim Probert

HarperCollins, 2021=22

256pp., graphic novel, RRP $A19.99

Welcome to Irpa, a world in which humans live and work alongside animals, where the sun no longer shines, and an ancient, forgotten terror is stirring.

When the sun was extinguished 500 years earlier, the Galdurians invented and built floating Lights to ward off the overwhelming darkness, and now, though the Galdurians are believed to be extinct, the Lights shine on.  

Deep in the heart of the planet stands the Salty Pig’s House of Tonics & Tinctures, home of the wise Pig Wizard and his adopted granddaughter, Bea, studying, foraging and making potions together for the people of their once-prosperous world, and, as keepers of the Endless Flame, living a quiet and peaceful life. 

All that changes one day when, while walking through the woods, Bea meets Cad, a member of the Galdurians, an ancient race thought to be long-extinct. Cad believes that if anyone can help him find his missing people, it’s the Pig Wizard. And so these two unlikely friends get swept up in an epic quest to save their world from falling into eternal darkness.

When they arrive home, the Pig Wizard is nowhere to be found—all that’s left is the Jar of Endless Flame and a mysterious note. Fearing for the Pig Wizard’s safety, Bea and Cad set out across Irpa to find him, while danger fights its way out of the shadows and into the light.

Will these two unexpected friends find the beloved Pig Wizard and prevent eternal darkness from blanketing their world Or has Irpa truly seen its last sunrise?

In the second in this new series, Bea and Cad continue their quest to stop Kest, the mythic bird who stole the sun. After a battle that nearly cost them their lives, they awaken in the hidden settlement of the Arsai, mysterious creatures who can glimpse into the future. The Arsai’s vision paints a dire picture for their planet, as the bird Kest Ke Belenus—now awoken from a restless slumber—threatens to destroy all the Lights of Irpa. Desperate for a solution, Bea and Cad seek out the help of a water spirit known as Lorgon, whose ancient wisdom may help them find a way to take down Kest and save Irpa from utter destruction.

But when their time with Lorgon presents more questions than answers, Bea and Cad must decide what’s more important . . . stopping Kest or uncovering the truth.

Both episodes end on a cliff-hanger leaving the reader to wait for the next installment, making this an engaging series for those who enjoy this sort of story in graphic novel format.  Probert has built a whole new world with intriguing characters that young independent readers will relate to as they face the sorts of dilemmas and decisions that the reader does, but in a parallel setting that adds an extra dimension, yet remains familiar so the leap isn’t too great for their imaginations.